In a recent conversation with a friend, she decided to pursue some Freud-inspired compulsion and determine what hidden feelings I have for my father. He was wasn't present for any of my childhood, married to a woman other than my mother. He missed out on decorated Christmas trees and lazy Saturday mornings, on housing projects and yellow government cheese. My friend knows all of this in detail, and naturally assumed I have feelings regarding his negative presence. She asked, "Don't you ever think about your father? What does he mean to you?"

After careful consideration, I showed my brilliant command of non-sequitur fu with the reply, "Well, I think of him in much the same way I think of Jimmy Carter." Just like Carter my mom thought he was a pretty good guy, though others might disagree. Also, the same way Carter left office in 1981, my father largely stopped visiting us sometime in the same period. Finally, while my father shows up in the flesh at about the same frequency Carter shows up on TV, neither of them exert any real influence on my life, positive or negative.

"But wait!" she commanded, not quite convinced by the analogy, "Wouldn't your life have been a lot different if he had stayed? Wouldn't everything have been better for you and your mom, without question?"

My reply was well within the bounds of my chosen metaphor: "Sure, just like things would have been different if Carter had stayed on another term instead of the election of Reagan." Indeed, the world might have turned out a little better place if the US had chosen the farmer/skilled diplomat over the actor/trickle-down economist, but that's not what happened. And my life might have been better with a money-earning hyperintelligent father that stayed around, rather than the lack thereof, but that didn't happen either. In both cases one just has to accept whatever number of votes come in, or whatever choice one man makes. Twenty years later it's neither important nor productive to discuss what might have been, only to be content with what actually is.